Meaning of a common construction and date of first usage

Joseph Nardoni JNardoni at AOL.COM
Mon May 22 11:15:36 UTC 2006

I have an interesting question about a common construction.  I have always 
thought that when you say, “You can tell by X whether or not Y is so,” you have 
made a statement that indicates a conclusion drawn from practical experience. 
 As an example demonstrating this I’ll use the following brief dialogue.  A 
boy asks his father who is sanding the arm of a chair, “Dad, how do you know 
when you’re done sanding?”  The father replies, “You can tell by running your 
hand along the wood and feeling how smooth it is.”  What I’d like to know is, 
when did it first come into usage, and are there other meanings commonly 
associated with this phrase or construction?


Joe Nardoni

The American Dialect Society -

More information about the Ads-l mailing list